A New Jersey jury awarded a former Lockheed Martin employee $51.4 million for age discrimination. Plaintiff’s attorney Console Mattiaci called the award “one of the largest ever obtained by an individual plaintiff in an age discrimination case.”
In 2012, citing a reduction in workforce (RIF), Lockheed Martin fired Robert Braden who was employed by the company, and its predecessors, for over 28 years. Braden sued the company for age discrimination because he was the oldest of six people in his company unit and he was the only one let go. (He was 66 while two others in his unit with the same title were ages 42 and 38.)
Braden also claimed that the company consistently practiced laying off older workers and hiring younger ones, and giving older workers lower ratings and raises because “they had nowhere else to go.” He said in his complaint that five of 110 Lockheed Martin workers in his job classification “were terminated as part of the layoffs. All five were over the age of 50.” Within a year of Braden’s termination, Lockheed Martin hired a new person in his position despite claiming that lack of work was the reason for his termination.
Lockheed Martin defended the claims citing Braden’s record of below average performance and lack of work for his skill set as the reasons for his termination. Although Lockheed Martin cited to the fact that it had a process in place to prevent age discrimination in the RIF, including an adverse impact analysis done by HR in conjunction with the company lawyers and EEO group, a company witness testified that Mr. Braden did not go through the company’s standard RIF process.
After a short four-day trial, the jury awarded Braden almost $50 million in punitive damages based on the jury’s determination that the company acted in reckless disregard for discrimination laws. Braden also received $520,000 for lost wages/benefits, and an additional $520,000 for emotional distress. The jury verdict entitles Braden to file an application seeking to have Lockheed Martin pay his attorneys’ fees.
There’s a lesson here for employers. Every company, no matter its size, must follow the civil rights law. Compliance is key!
Robert Braden v. Lockheed Martin Corporation, Civil Action No. 14-4215-RMB-JS (D.N.J. 2014).